Hamilton and Washington both foresaw ways in which future demagogues would undermine the Constitution by usurping powers reserved to other branches, and leading the country into war to hold onto power and increase their wealth. The usurper would be Lincoln, who wielded the power of an absolute dictator between April and July 1861, and by the time Congress had assembled in the latter month, could arrest and imprison anyone as he launched a ruinous and bloody war upon his own people.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Hamilton Envisions an American Pericles
“The Founders all knew war first hand; war on American soil, with a full third of their own countrymen against them, often in arms alongside the enemy. They built into their [Constitution] machinery to handle treason and rebellion. But they knew that crisis and war were favorite tools of demagogues. Hamilton reminded his readers of “the celebrated Pericles,” leader of Athens, motivated by fear and pique, who led his nation into a bloody and ruinous war to save his own political skin and to escape economic damage he had helped visit upon the state.
Hamilton saw that a leader who took America into war could use the circumstance to rob her of cherished liberties: “The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort to repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.”
“If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, Washington wrote, “let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can any time yield.”
In Washington’s “Farewell Address,” the connection between perpetual voluntary union, and obedience to the Constitution, is explicit. His prayer for the country, he said, was “that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained.”
The cult of the union, as it evolved in the Civil War era, identified “liberty” and “union” as essentially identical. But to the Founders, “liberty” was tied to the balance of powers they had carefully woven into the Constitution: “Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian.” Washington wrote.
A little-known fact of the Constitution is that two of the largest States — Virginia and New York – made the right to withdraw from the union explicit in their acceptance of the Constitution. And in such an agreement between parties as is represented by the Constitution, a right claimed by one is allowed to all.”
(The Legality of Secession, excerpts, www.etymonline.com)